NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) — A five-part apology for “injudicious comments” was released today (May 9) by Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, regarding the Trayvon Martin killing.
Land’s apology stemmed from a May 2 meeting in which several key African American leaders were in attendance, including Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans; James Dixon Jr., president of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention and senior pastor of El-Bethel Baptist Church in Fort Washington, Md.; and K. Marshall Williams, chairman of the Southern Baptist African American Advisory Council and pastor of Nazarene Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Pa.
“I am here today to offer my genuine and heartfelt apology for the harm my words of March 31, 2012, have caused to specific individuals, the cause of racial reconciliation, and the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Land said in his two-page apology May 9.
As a result of the meeting May 2 that lasted nearly five hours, Land said, “I have come to understand in sharper relief how damaging my words were.”
Among others at the May 2 meeting were Frank Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, and Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. In all, 12 individuals attended the session at the SBC Building in Nashville, Tenn.
Dixon, contacted by Baptist Press, said he would have no comment on Land’s apology until after ERLC trustees have completed the process initiated by their executive committee on April 18 regarding comments by Land on his weekly call-in radio show over the intrusion of politics into the Trayvon Martin case, in which Land referenced President Obama and the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson by name. The six-member executive committee, in a public statement, expressed sadness “that this controversy has erupted” and concern “about how these events may damage the work of the ERLC in support of Southern Baptists and in furtherance of the Kingdom of our Lord.”
The ERLC executive committee also created an ad hoc committee to investigate allegations of plagiarism over material Land failed to attribute to a Washington Times columnist on the March 31 broadcast.
Steve Faith, ERLC trustee chairman, issued a statement later on May 9 that the ad hoc committee is working “with due diligence and will bring a thorough and complete report to the ERLC Executive Committee who will prayerfully consider the findings. The ERLC Executive Committee will bring a report to the full board of trustees and then release a public statement by June 1.
“It is important to understand that our Southern Baptist polity places Dr. Land under the authority of the ERLC trustees who are elected by and accountable directly to the Convention,” said Faith, a retired pastor and Baptist association director of missions in Indiana. “The trustees are aware of their responsibility to the Convention and to the watching world.”
Land’s full statement of apology May 9 follows:
“I am here today to offer my genuine and heartfelt apology for the harm my words of March 31, 2012, have caused to specific individuals, the cause of racial reconciliation, and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Through the ministry of The Reverend James Dixon, Jr. the president of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention, and a group of brethren who met with me earlier this month, I have come to understand in sharper relief how damaging my words were.
“I admit that my comments were expressed in anger at what I thought was one injustice — the tragic death of Trayvon Martin — being followed by another injustice — the media trial of George Zimmerman, without appeal to due judicial process and vigilante justice promulgated by the New Black Panthers. Like my brothers in the Lord, I want true justice to prevail and must await the revelation of the facts of the case in a court of law. Nevertheless, I was guilty of making injudicious comments.
“First, I want to confess my insensitivity to the Trayvon Martin family for my imbalanced characterization of their son which was based on news reports, not personal knowledge. My heart truly goes out to a family whose lives have been turned upside down by the shocking death of a beloved child. I can only imagine their sense of loss and deeply regret any way in which my language may have contributed to their pain.
“Second, I am here to confess that I impugned the motives of President Obama and the reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. It was unchristian and unwise for me to have done so. God alone is the searcher of men’s hearts. I cannot know what motivated them in their comments in this case. I have sent personal letters of apology to each of them asking for them to forgive me. I continue to pray for them regularly, and for our president daily.
“Third, I do not believe that crime statistics should in any way justify viewing a person of another race as a threat. I own my earlier words about statistics; and I regret that they may suggest that racial profiling is justifiable. I have been an outspoken opponent of profiling and was grief-stricken to learn that comments I had made were taken as a defense of what I believe is both unchristian and unconstitutional. I share the dream of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that all men, women, boys, and girls would be judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin. Racial profiling is a heinous injustice. I should have been more careful in my choice of words.
“Fourth, I must clarify another poor choice of words. I most assuredly do not believe American racism is a ‘myth’ in the sense that it is imaginary or fictitious. It is all too real and all too insidious. My reference to myth in this case was to a story used to push a political agenda. Because I believe racism is such a grievous sin, I stand firmly against its politicization. Racial justice is a non-partisan ideal and should be embraced by both sides of the political aisle.
“Finally, I want to express my deep gratitude to Reverend Dixon and the other men who met with me recently for their Christ-like witness, brotherly kindness, and undaunting courage. We are brethren who have been knit together by the love of Jesus Christ and the passion to reach the world with the message of that love. I pledge to them — and to all who are within the sound of my voice — that I will continue to my dying breath to seek racial justice and that I will work harder than ever to be self-disciplined in my speech. I am grateful to them for holding me accountable.
“I am also delighted to announce that as a result of our meeting, the ERLC, in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, will initiate regular meetings to discuss our common calling to heal our nation’s racial brokenness, work for meaningful reconciliation, and strategize for racial justice.”
Attending the meeting in addition to Land, Luter, Dixon, Marshall, Page, Patterson and Faith were Dwight McKissick, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas; Terry Turner, president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and pastor of Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church in Mesquite; A.B. Vines Sr., senior pastor of New Seasons Church in Spring Valley, Calif., in the San Diego area; Craig Mitchell, chairman of Southwestern Seminary’s ethics faculty and associate director of the seminary’s Richard Land Center for Cultural Engagement; and C. Ben Mitchell, Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.
Land issued an initial apology April 16 for the comments in conjunction with comments by Luter and SBC President Bryant Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., in the Atlanta area. The Baptist Press story can be accessed at www.bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=37620. Earlier on April 16, Land also issued an apology for the material he failed to attribute to a Washington Times columnist. That BP story can be accessed at www.bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=37619. The Baptist Press story on the April 18 statement by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission trustee executive committee can be accessed at http://www.bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=37630
Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press.